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252                                                                                                          B.  POLEVOI
Each ate a plateful of the "superior" jelly that was as
sour as vinegar, chatted merrily about everything except,
as if by common agreement, two subjects—Gvozdev and
Meresyev—and later made arrangements to turn in on
their respective couches. Anyuta went into the corridor
and waited until she heard Alexei's artificial feet fall to
the floor with a tap, then walked in, put the lamp out,
undressed and went to bed. The room was dark, they were
silent, but from the rustle of the sheets and the twang of
the bed springs, she knew that he was awake. At last
Anyuta asked:
"Are you asleep, Alyosha?"
"No."
"Thinking?"
"Yes. And you?"
"I'm thinking too."
They fell silent again. In the street a street-car screeched
as it turned the corner. For an instant the flash of
an electric spark from its trolley lit up the room, and in
that instant each saw the face of the other. Both were
lying with eyes wide open.
Alexei had not said a word to Anyuta about his fruit-
less wanderings, but she guessed that his affairs were in
a bad way and that, perhaps, his indomitable spirit was
being worn down by disappointment. Her feminine intui-
tion told her how much that man must be suffering, but
it also told her that, hard as it may be for him at this
moment, a word of sympathy would only aggravate his
pain and that commiseration would only offend.
He, in turn, was lying on his back, with his head resting
on his hands, thinking about the pretty girl in the bed a
few paces away from his own, the sweetheart of his friend
and a good comrade. He only had to take a few steps
across the dark room to reach her; but nothing in the
world could induce him to take those few steps, as if the
girl, whom he knew little, but who had given him shelter,
was his own sister. Major Struchkov would probably jeer
at' him, probably not believe him, if he told him about
this. But who could tell? Perhaps now he would be able
to understand him better than anybody else.... What a
fine girl Anyuta is! Poor thing, how tired she gets, and yet
how enthusiastic she is about her work at the base hospital!